FARM ANIMAL COALITION
Learn about sheep
Do you know that China is the country with the largest number of sheep in the world? Have you ever heard that sheep have a field of vision of almost 360 degrees, which allows them to see behind themselves? Do you know that a flock is the term to call a group of sheep? Are you aware that sheep were domesticated around 10000 years ago in the region of Central Asia? There are a variety of facts not widely known about this animal which are sometimes seen as a source of meat and wool for human consumption. It is time they were seen as sentient beings rather than the means for our consumption ends.
Let's get scientific about sheep!
a) General characteristics
Sheep have distinctive names for different genders and stages in their lives. Sheep under 12 months are referred to as lambs. Ewes is the term to call adult female sheep while rams are for adult male sheep.
Sheep have an average lifespan of around 12-14 years. They are social animals like goats so they should never be kept alone, otherwise this would bring them great stress. Also like goats, they prefer a calm approach as they suspicious by nature.
They are ruminants and consume hay or pasture for their daily diets. Loss of appetite, weakness, labored or fast breathing, diarrhea and higher than usual temperature are typical symptoms of illness in sheep.
b) Behavioral traits and senses
Sheep are social and docile animals with good memories. They are followers by nature and like routine. They do not react well to aggressive noises and behaviors. To protect themselves, they tend to gather in a corner.
Sheep are not good at perceiving depth. Therefore water, dark surfaces and shadows can be issues for them. In contrast, they move better on a flat surface or uphill. Ewes of many breeds are seasonal breedes. They mate only during certain times of the year.
With regard to their sense of hearing, it is quite well developed. Their hearing range is wider than that of humans. In terms of vision, sheep have eyes on either sides of their head. Their binocular vision in front of their head is narrow but the peripheral fields of monocular vision are wide.
Sheep are grazers. Eating grasses and legumes low to the ground is their typical preference. For newborn lambs, they need colostrum after birth.
In terms of communication, tey have different vocalizations to send across different emotions.
c) Sheep intelligence
Sheep are intelligent animals with a similar level to cattle and nearly as clever as pigs. They can differentiate between and recall up to 50 other sheep faces.
Sheep show complex emotions. Scientific studies pointed out the ability for sheep to feel emotions like being afraid, angry, bored, sad and happy. Their emotional process include reciprocity between emotions and cognition.
d) Concerning signs in sheep
These behaviors are concerning in sheep:
1. Wool pulling: This happens when sheep pull out and even eat the wool of others. This normally occurs when sheep are put in restrictive environments. This can be resolved by giving them more space and outdoor access.
2. Lamb stealing: This happens when several pregnant ewes are put together, in which some ewes steal lambs from the others.
e) Signs of poor well-being in sheep
Sheep may not show clear signs of distress, which may pose a challenge for problem detection. However, these signs can indicate whether they are sick or in pain:
1. Less active than typical (with the rest of the flock)
2. Consuming less food and water than typical
3. Dull/dirty in appearance and displaying a body weight or condition that is unhealthy
4. Experiencing difficulty in walking
5. Showing signs of swelling or injuries or discoloration of some areas (the udder of a female sheep)
6. Experiencing discharge from the eyes and other areas
Fun facts about sheep
1. Marisa Erasmus, "Quick Goat Facts". Animal well-being: Goats. Purdue Extension. https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/as/as-656-w.pdf
2. Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Sheep Fact Sheet. https://casanctuary.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Sheep-Fact-Sheet.pdf
In order of appearance in the fun fact section: